07 August 2010


Locus Focus: Take Thirteen!

Welcome to our Subterranean Settings Challenge!

Yes, this is another themed weekend for Locus Focus. If you're participating in my new "I Love My Friends" Giveaway, then the post you link up today will earn you another three entries!

As I did last month with Family Homes, I will be writing about all the "runners up" to this first choice of mine; but everyone else can link up whatever else they like. =)

Note that next month's theme will be School Settings! My teacher's soul expects full attendance! =P

The Downside
by Neal Shusterman

Lindsay followed [Talon], feeling more light-headed and giddy at the moment. Everything around her was bursting with a magic she had never found in the Surface World. It had to do with the care that went into every inch of the Downside. Every chamber and niche was a work of art, from the corridor walls papered with colourful images from old billboards, to the floors paved with broken fragments of Topside junk. These people had taken the waste of the World and transformed it into something priceless, with all the skill of Rumplestiltskin weaving straw into gold.

But nowhere was this more evident than in the Grotto of Light . . .

The Grottos of Light (Yes, there is more than one) are just a few of the chambers that make up the Downside, which is an entire city--heck, an entire civilisation--thriving under the Topside world of New York City.

When a Topsider like you or me thinks of the underground, he pictures dark tunnels for sewage and maybe a subway system. To a Downsider, however, these are but the "High Perimeter"--the shady limbo between both worlds, where Topsiders go to "fall" and Downsiders go to "catch" them. But when Lindsay Matthias is pulled into a storm drain by her new friend Talon Angler, she becomes the first Topsider to enter the Downside with her clothes and with her name. And, yes, she changes everything.

But to explain that would be to go beyond the scope of this post; so let's stick to the Downside and what Lindsay saw there . . .

First Talon leads her into an old train station, now one of the Rune Chambers, with walls so thick with hieroglyphics that the whole place glows with "the captured light of an Impressionist painting" . . . then an old parking garage converted into a Growing Cavern for farming mushrooms and lichen . . . and strangest of all, an old theatre ("But what's a theatre doing down here?") which a few high-wattage bulbs and thousands of bits of crystal and shiny metal have turned into a breathtaking Grotto of Light. It is a world made almost entirely of Topside junk--old subway tokens, discarded bottle caps, rags and tatters from old clothes--and yet it is not drab or dingy. The Downsiders know how to take the broken, unwanted pieces of a civilisation which discards what it ought to save and to transform them into things of oddball yet breathtaking beauty.

So there are more rooms, including the wildly unbelievable Bot--which is really more of a region than a room, and which could merit a Locus Focus post of its own someday. It's good that the novel comes with a map!

Downsiders is clearly a highly imaginative Adventure story, which is recommendation enough. But what really sets it a cut above the rest is that the discovery goes both ways: as Lindsay is enthralled by the wonders of the Downside world which Talon takes for granted, Talon has his turn marveling at the Topside civilisation that is so ordinary to Lindsay--and to us.

A world, regardless of which one it happens to be, is rather ordinary to the souls who inhabit it. A Topsider could see a spray of a billion stars across the heavens each night and think nothing of their wonder . . . or sit on the beach before an ocean stretched out to the razor edge of the horizon and be more concerned with the sand that has gotten between their ham on rye than with the majesty of the seas.

It is human nature to take the most magical of worlds for granted, turning each one into a blank canvas upon which to paint the lives of those who would live there. Only an outsider can see a world's wonders for what they truly are.

Don't you just love that narrative voice? Wry, wise, and philosophical . . . I had to quote it before I ended this post. It's one of the reasons I love this novel so much and wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone reading this post.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

Quick Links to the Other Loci Foci:

Michael D. O'Brien's San Callistus @ Spike Is Best

Kenneth Grahame's Badger's Home @ Null Epistolary

Elaine Cunningham's Menzoberranzan @ Pearls Cast Before a McPig

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Xanadu @ Birdie's Nest

Image Source: Downsiders by Neal Shusterman


Paul Stilwell said...

Your recommendation has been duly noted, dear Astorian.

That final quote makes me think of two certain characters in The Ball and The Cross who escape from prison (kept there unjustly) as the sun is setting, and one of them describes the sunset, if I remember right, as a hole broken in heaven - as though the hole were there by accident.

And those Grottos of Light sound magnificent; that makes sense where light is not taken for granted.

Enbrethiliel said...


Chesterton is pretty good at describing things as if he himself is seeing them for the very first time. =)

I think I'd recommend the book for the descriptions of the Downside alone!

Sullivan McPig said...

Sounds like an intriguing setting. You sure know how to make me curious about a book.

Birdie said...

Wow! That's fascinating! It reminds me of a non-fiction book I read once about the "mole people" who live in the abandoned layers of the subway in NYC.

They have no light, but they have adapted and their civilization is fascinating and has a structure not unlike "topside" NYC.

Belfry Bat said...

While I don't believe GKC ever frightened anyone with his wedding-day revolver, I'm sure there's something autobiographical about Manalive, and Innocent almost certainly has mastered the trick of seeing everything as new every time...

I'm fascinated by the notion of so much refuse finding new life "just" by physically descending and meeting sufficiently immaginative people. (But don't let me muse on that too long: I've got so much to get rid of!)

Belfry Bat said...

uh-oh! Where's McLinky? Did anyone unexpected join in?

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Sully: Thanks! My book blogging might be sporadic, but it is at least not in vain! ;-)

@ Birdie: Shusterman was definitely inspired by New York's urban legends, like those of the mole people and the crocodiles flushed down toilets. =) But what he does with them is also incredibly original!

@ Bat: Innocent certainly lives up to his name!

McLinky occasionally disappears when its site is down. That's why, when I have time, I edit the old Locus Focus posts so that all the links are easily accessible from the post itself. The linky does pop back up after a few hours, though. =)